I guess for the younger, and more profane, crowd that would translate to “Getting Old Sucks.” But does it? Countless seniors carry on healthy, productive lives in their professional and personal existence, knowing their time on earth is short.
In all likelihood I’ve already spent three-quarters of my years. Wasted is one word that comes to mind and I have to look really hard to come up any achievements that will be remembered past the time of my children. There’s no doubt in my immediate family (the one I was raised in) that I’m the black sheep. The family “character,” the one who blurted out the most embarrassing things and acted out inappropriately. We all have someone like that, be it the leering uncle, the dotty grandmother or the sister in prison.
How much of myself to reveal in such a public arena? Would it matter since I have a very tiny following in the literary world? There has never been another time in history when a person could show their ass so flagrantly. Admitting to addiction is one thing, telling that I need to buy panty liners is another. I can see gray heads everywhere nodding to that one so it’s a shared mortification and a grim tip of the hat to the smirking young. You’ll see. Oh, yes you will. Even if you undergo surgery to lift your sagging bladder there are certain inevitable ugly facts of life. At present what worries me is losing control. Of my bowels and bladder. My mind. Any future I may have once the preceding are gone. Since my primary occupation is caregiver for the elderly you can see how these concerns are particularly troubling.
Almost ten years ago I went to work for a nursing home again for the first time since I was nineteen. At that young age I couldn’t cope with the bald horror of getting old, watching folk who, just a week before had been ambulatory, sitting in a wheelchair staring blankly out their window or suffering the hallucinatory effects of their medication. I was better able to cope at fifty-one. Here for the grace of God, come I.
The title of this article is a direct quote of a dear woman I had the honor to clean up after. She maintained her dignity even through bed wetting. She wasn’t happy about getting infirm and incontinent but she refused to be bitter about it. I met many like her, including a lady that asked one of her aides to pray that God might take her from this world. He refused but said he’d pray that God lift her soul during its trials and she told me, with the endearing wonder of a child, how God had seen fit to answer his prayer and not hers. She accepted the answer, and the suffering, with graciousness.
Able to listen more compassionately, I had a new appreciation for the wisdom I gained from those whose desire it was to impart it. Above all, I listened. They wanted to leave something of them behind, lessons hard earned, the joys of their youth, sad reflections upon impeding death. I shared cigarettes, sneaked lottery tickets in and gave the little comfort I could, held hands, washed and dressed them one last time.
Now it’s my turn to experience that desperation of shortening years. At eighty-three my mother recently told me, “If there’s something you want to do, do it now while you still can.” I think she was speaking not just of things physical but also spiritual and I’ve been taking inventory, fearful of not being who I want to be. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that the worst you can do is not accept what you are, flaws and all. Celebrate the good, forgive the bad. If we’re to have peace at all we must forgive ourselves.
What will I leave behind? Henry David Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and “You must work very long to write short sentences.” It would be my happy end to have learned to write like that before I die, to get to that level of succinctness in aphorism.
I know I’ll never be another Thoreau, Shakespeare or even Pete Dexter. To even have a tenth of the talent or integrity of Toni Morrison is something to aspire to. All I can hope is that this little blog site or any of my writing might find commonality with at least one person. If through my writing I can take the hand of another and share an understanding that will be immortality enough.
I’ve typed this, a nod to my wannabe life as a writer. Now I’m getting off my ass, taking a shower and going to get reptile food for my daughter’s pets. Already the kitchen’s been cleaned, clothes washed and the repair of my home’s electrical system’s been discussed with a qualified professional. Later my son and I will bag up some more of the ever annoying pile of pine needles in the yard then I’m going to visit my mother. Do what I can while I can.